A Family Guide To Keeping Chickens: How to choose and care for your first chickens shows how keeping chickens in a small garden is possible. Not only does Perdeaux take readers through each stage of the process - from planning and preparing for your first chickens and understanding their behaviour, to dealing with parasites and predators - she even includes fun activities to engage children with the idea of keeping chickens. Over to Annie:
"Gardens are getting smaller, while outdoor living becomes more popular. The garden may already be accommodating toys, a barbecue, even some flowers – and chickens may seem an impossible dream.
While not wanting to start a factory farm in the garden, you need to allow at least one square metre per chicken – two is preferable. You will also need room for a henhouse, unless it is raised so the chickens can use the area underneath.
If you have a little more space, don’t be tempted to cram in extra chickens. It would be better to keep three hens and give them as much room as possible. Even three chickens will quickly use their scratching and foraging inclinations to turn a small area into a smelly mud-bath – not something you want to look at when sipping a glass of wine on the patio!
Using a solid base also prevents vermin and predators from tunnelling in, but if the run is situated directly on the ground the chickens will benefit from any insects they can dig up. The soil should be protected by a thick layer of scratching material, which may get dug into the ground, especially if it becomes wet. Regular picking out of droppings, raking and disinfecting will help. When the run is cleaned out, the soil underneath should be treated with a ground sanitizer.
If you have to deal with a run that has already become sodden, you will need to dig out the wet soil first; otherwise whatever you add will quickly become incorporated into the mire.
Ground cover for chicken runs
The success of whichever material you choose depends on careful planning and your own commitment. Try to situate the run in a sheltered place, avoiding low-lying areas. Roofing all or part of the run will help – as long as the chickens still have access to sunshine. A quick daily clean prevents a build-up of droppings and disease. Neglected chicken runs are bad for the birds and unpleasant for everyone in the vicinity.
These should last for a few months with careful maintenance. They are available from poultry stores and DIY shops or you may be able to obtain them more cheaply from a tree-surgeon (but be careful they don’t contain any poisonous yew). Don’t use shredded bark as this contains harmful spores.
Make sure you buy the type suitable for chickens. They are laid over a weedproof membrane and should be regularly hosed down. You must allow drainage for the mucky water to escape or a residue of droppings will become trapped by the membrane.
Sometimes used in covered runs, straw needs changing regularly, especially if it gets wet, and may cause digestive problems if the chickens eat it. Don’t use hay as it contains harmful moulds and quickly turns into a matted mess.
Dust-extracted wood shavings
These are mostly used for bedding, but shavings can be spread thickly in a covered run. Like straw, they need raking and changing frequently, and may get blown around the garden.
Shredded hemp bedding
Originally sold for horses, this is increasingly used for chickens and can be bought from poultry suppliers as well as country stores. It is more expensive than wood shavings, but also more absorbent and composts faster. Although mainly used for bedding, it can also be used in covered runs.
With care, chickens can become an attractive feature of even a small garden. It will take a little effort to keep their surroundings clean and fragrant, but you will have an ever-changing living tableau to enjoy – who needs a fountain?"
The above extract and photograph are taken from A Family Guide to Keeping Chickens and are reproduced by kind permission of the publishers, How to Books.